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Palestinians: Sharon, Abbas may meet soon

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Ariel Sharon
Mahmoud Abbas

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- A meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and newly elected Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has been tentatively scheduled for February 8, Abbas' spokesman, Hassan Abu Libdeh, has said.

He added that the date depends, however, on the outcome of talks between officials representing both leaders.

David Baker, an official in Sharon's office, did not give an exact date.

"The meeting would be in order to make further progress, and it's contingent on Palestinians continuing to fight terror," Baker said Saturday.

The meeting would be the first between the two leaders since Abbas was elected earlier this month.

Sharon and Abbas met in 2003, when Abbas served as prime minister under the late Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, in an effort to push forward a U.S.-led peace plan that later stalled.

In a first top-level meeting between Israeli and Palestinian officials, Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz was scheduled to meet with his Palestinian counterpart, Mohammed Dahlan, later Saturday, officials said.

The two were expected to discuss a possible withdrawal of Israeli forces from Palestinian population centers.

Newly sworn-in U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is scheduled to visit the region as part of a seven-day trip to Europe and the Middle East.

Abu Libdeh said Rice is expected to to arrive in the region February 6.

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